So, I ask you, what’s not to like about Beverly Hills based Tagine Restaurant owner, Chef Ben? With a gracious smile, big heart and warm memories of a mother who loved feeding her family this food ologist struck out on a lifelong journey that took him and his masterful culinary skills to LA in 1987 and finally to actor, producer and co-owner of Tagine, Ryan Gosling. While working for, Water Grill downtown Los Angeles as their bartender and, Captain of Catering, Ben and his friends were asked to cater more events and parties that serve food for a variety of people. One event was for Ryan. He was living downtown at his loft and had a friend coming into LA from New York to show his art. At the event he told me “Art is your food Ben, where is your restaurant, I want to eat there every day.” I said I don’t have one.” “he said go find one and I’ll support you 100% all the way. He asked me where I learned to cook. I said from my mom and grand mom. He said that’s all he needed.”
His father a Moroccan born mechanic and his mom born in Tangier and a stay-at-home parent gave Ben good reason as a young boy to be tied to his mother’s apron strings learning everything he needed to know about shopping for food. A part of a meal’s preparation was the gathering of the finest herbs and spices of the land. The touch smell and magical fingers of his mother’s hands covered with herbs, spices and, what not, is a memory that Chef Ben loves to talk about. “She passed away a few years ago but fed us breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all of her life. Whatever I give her is never enough. He makes a slight gesture with his hands kissing the tips of two fingers looks up to the sky and says, “I love you mom”.
Ben was born in the small city of Kenitra near the capital of Rabat which as a former American military airbase became the perfect landscape for a young man to test his hands at cooking. He made little candies and interesting delicacies for the troops who would come to visit. One day as he was throwing candies out into the eating area an officer asked, “who made this? Well whoever made it tell them one day wherever they are, I will be there”. Chef Ben says, “wherever there is love and good food there is happiness in life.” He swears by that statement. In their home there was always food and laughter a necessary element to develop a positive state of mind when the struggle of living becomes all too real. “We had no fridge, no stove but we used whatever we had, and we were happy.” Families and friends were close to each enjoying the company of the other. Mother’s meals were filled full of love and it made the families whole because of it. With a boyish grin big enough to fill up an entire plate he turns and says, “do you know why the Moroccan lifestyle is like no other? Because of the love put into the food and people care for each other. The oceans are beautiful, the sky is beautiful. Everything is beautiful. Whatever was around us is what we used, and we were grateful. Going to market was a part of daily life for his mom and other women and their families in the area.
As for what a Chef like Ben will do to satisfy even the heartiest of palettes, he gets up early morning around 7:00AM to go to market in search of fresh organic edibles of all kinds. The restaurant opens in the evenings, and it gives him the time to shop at the market. Go rest and get back to the restaurant by 2PM to clean up and prepare for the evening’s guest. With his finely developed talent for cooking there is very little time for anything else. As a Chef, he is constantly in touch and even in tuned with family, friends, and their most intimate choices for what makes their stomachs feel good.
His eyes shifting slightly then speaking through the gaze of a shy young boy with authority he quietly said, “The magic of the day’s recipe was in the pinching of the fingers with just the right amount of spices and herbs. Fingers and hands working in perfect harmony and my mother’s love. I didn’t plan to be a Chef he said, but I loved food and the happiness that it can bring to everyone.
Chef Ben treated me to a Moroccan cheesecake made with rosewater and orange blossoms and the finest organic berry blends from near and far. An international green tea served with mint and wild honey from Morocco and the evening was full of life and magic.
For more information on Chef Ben Benameur of Tagine Restaurant
132 N. Robertson Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90211.